Diarrhoea is passing looser, watery or more frequent poo (stools) than is normal for you. 

It affects most people from time to time and is usually nothing to worry about. It can be distressing and unpleasant. It normally clears up in a few days to a week. 

Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.

Self-help guide

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Immediate action required: Phone 999 or got to A&E if you or your child:

  • might have swallowed something poisonous 
  • have a stiff neck and pain when looking at bright lights
  • have a sudden, severe headache or stomach ache 

Urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:

You or your child has diarrhoea and: 

  • it's particularly frequent or severe
  • it lasts for more than 7 days 
  • you're concerned 
  • poo with blood on it 
  • persistent vomiting and are unable to keep fluid down
  • a severe or continuous stomach ache 
  • weight loss
  • have passed a large amount of very watery diarrhoea 
  • it occurs at night and is disturbing sleep
  • have recently taken antibiotics or been treated in hospital
  • have signs of dehydration – including drowsiness, peeing less than usual, and feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • have poo that's dark or black – this may be a sign of bleeding inside your stomach 

Your child: 

  • has had 6 or more episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours 
  • has diarrhoea and vomiting at the same time
  • has stopped drinking fluids while they're ill
  • is a baby and has vomited 3 times or more in the past 24 hours 
  • is under 12 months with diarrhoea and you're worried

If your GP is closed, phone 111.

What causes diarrhoea? 

There are many different causes of diarrhoea. A bowel infection (gastroenteritis) is a common cause in both adults and children. 

Gastroenteritis can be caused by: 

  • a virus – such as norovirus or rotavirus 
  • bacteria – such as campylobacter and Escherichia (E. coli), which are often picked up from contaminated food 
  • a parasite – such as the parasite that causes giardiasis, which is spread in contaminated water 

These infections can sometimes be caught during travelling abroad, particularly to areas with poor standards of public hygiene. This is known as travellers' diarrhoea. 

Diarrhoea can also be the result of anxiety, a food allergy, medication, or a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

What to do if you have diarrhoea

Most cases of diarrhoea clear up after a few days without treatment.

You should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Drink small sips of water often. It's very important that babies and children do not become dehydrated.

Your pharmacist may suggest you use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if you or you child are particularly at risk of dehydration.

You should eat solid foods as soon as you feel able to. If you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should try to feed them as normal.

Stay at home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea to prevent spreading any infection to others. 

Medications to reduce diarrhoea, such as loperamide, are available. However, these are not usually necessary. Most types of medication should not be given to children  

Preventing diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is often caused by an infection. You can reduce your risk by making sure you maintain high standards of hygiene.


  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food
  • clean the toilet, including the handle and the seat, with disinfectant after each episode of diarrhoea
  • avoid sharing towels, flannels, cutlery, or utensils with other household members
  • avoid potentially unsafe tap water and undercooked food when travelling abroad

Last updated:
29 May 2023

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